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Replication Costs at Center of High-Def Format Battle

1 Apr, 2005 By: Erik Gruenwedel

In ongoing posturing between competing next-generation, high-definition disc formats, backers of HD-DVD have repeatedly stressed the lower costs associated with converting existing DVD replication lines to HD-DVD, compared to Blu-ray Disc.

Current DVD replication lines, and to a lesser degree HD-DVD, use red-laser technology to physically embed content onto a 0.6mm substrate layer of a disc. Blue laser is also employed in the replication of HD-DVD discs.

Blu-ray Disc, as its name suggests, incorporates a relatively new blue laser technology to embed content on a 0.1mm substrate.

The big issue and cost concern is what that cover layer is going to be made out of. If it is a plastic film, experts say Blu-ray will be more expensive. If it is a lacquer-dispensed layer, then the pricing is going to be relatively similar.

“It is really not fair to make comparisons [based only on replication] at this time,” said Gregg Johnson, VP of strategic planning with Deluxe Digital Studios in Burbank, Calif. The company is not officially supporting either format, Johnson said.

A technical representative from a studio supporting HD-DVD chided with a kid glove approach to Blu-ray.

“I defy you to find even a few of the single- or dual-layer Blu-ray discs,” said the representative who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The reason I know you won't find them is that I know they can't make them reliably. You need new equipment to optimize the disc, and deal with new processes and materials. Damn straight, it is going to cost more money.”

Josh Peterson, director of strategic alliances for optical storage at Hewlett-Packard, a supporter of Blu-ray Disc, countered that touting the value proposition of cheap replication costs, at least initially, is a weak one.

He said that manufacture of a new product at a relatively low volume is going to carry a premium price. Peterson believes that premium will be short term, due to ongoing improvements and economies of scale.

With 67 percent more disc capacity than HD-DVD, Peterson said the cost-per-gigabyte for Blu-ray makes the format very competitive.

“If new capital investment is required on either side, we don't see that as a negative,” Peterson said. “We like to look at it from a value perspective, not a cost-per-disc perspective.”

A Sony representative said a replication unit, Sony DADC, located in its Terre Haute, Ind., R&D facility, is part of a program finalizing a Blu-ray Disc replication line.

Replication d?tente
Disc-replication companies contacted for this story said they remain agnostic toward either format and tight-lipped about strategies to implement them.

“From our point of view, we will manufacturer whatever format our customers want, be it Blu-ray or HD-DVD,” said Lyne Beauregard, spokesperson for Toronto-based Cinram International. “We are not the deciding party here.”

Technicolor said it, too, was taking a neutral approach to the issue, with the intent of supporting its clients and whatever formats they wished to pursue.“We are doing the research and testing for both, and we are committed to the next-generation format, regardless if it is either one or both at the same time,” said Technicolor spokesperson John Kearns.

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